When it comes to long range shooting instruction and opportunity, the best place I know is the FTW ranch in Barksdale, TX. It’s about a two and a half hour drive from the San Antonio airport, but the winding road will take you to a whole new world. As the owner Tim Fallon pointed out, the ranch was the last stronghold of the Comanche and once you see this country you understand why. It is wild country with deep canyons and steep hills. It’s a perfect place to evade the cavalry or to learn about long range shooting.
The facility has a wide range of targets out to 1,800 yards and even farther. In fact, the world record 3,600 yard (2 miles) shot was done at the FTW ranch. The many targets are set in a wide range of terrain, including at angles up and down and in long deep canyons where the winds get screwy. The military trains here, partly because of the diverse target opportunities, but also because the rough and broken terrain simulates the wind conditions found in Afghanistan’s mountains.
Students at the FTW ranch have an opportunity to shoot in a very wide range of wind conditions. As any long range shooter knows, the toughest part is dealing with wind. While trajectory and bullet drop are science and can be calculated with numbers, reading the wind is an art that is only learned by experience.
The instructors at FTW are mostly retired Navy S.E.A.L.s who have made a career out of mastering long range shooting. The food and lodging is excellent and with the open bar, outside fire pit and company of gun guys, everybody has a great time here, both shooting and socializing.
This is the best place on earth to learn about long range shooting and the best place to introduce a new long range scope. The Swarovski X5 Long Range Hunting and Target scopes will hit the market later this year, but I was lucky enough to spend a few days with some pre-production units; shooting at and hitting targets at crazy-long ranges.
The Swarovski X5 scopes will initially be offered in two configurations; 3.5-18×50 (The scope I used) and 5-25×56. These scopes differ from other Swarovskis and any other scopes and are completely new in design. These scopes were five years in the making and the heart of the new scope is the adjustment system which is completely re-engineered. It uses precision machined stainless steel parts that are so precise they had to find a new way to measure them. The method they settled on was developed to measure the smoothness of a surface rather than the tolerance of parts, because until now no parts were precise enough to need this degree of accuracy in measurement.
The new scope system changes the way the erector moves when adjusting and it eliminates some of the problems that are found in other long range scopes. With this newly designed adjustment system and the precision parts finished to a high degree of smoothness, the movements within the scope are extremely precise. The changes in adjustment for windage and elevation are exact and they repeat perfectly.
That’s not just marketing hype; I proved it beyond a doubt in my mind by dialing back and forth from 100 to 1,400 yards. The scope never failed and my expected adjustments were always spot on. If I expected to be zeroed for 750 yards, I hit the 750 yard target. I was able to hit one MOA size targets from 250 yards out to 1,200 yards simply by dialing up the adjustments. All of those except one were first shot hits. I owned that single miss free and clear and hit the target on my second shot. At 1,400 yards I was exceeding the limits of the cartridge and while I hit the target several times, it was getting unpredictable.
For the record, while I did shoot a .338 Lapua a little bit, most of my shooting that week was with the new Ruger FTW Predator Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. Ammo was Hornady 140-grain A-Max factory loads. This is a very impressive cartridge and rifle and I was able to shoot sub-half-MOA groups at 100 yards while adjusting zero. Once I had the gun zeroed for 100 yards I used FTW’s unique range card system to figure the dial up for each shot.
(Look for a review of the rifle in NRA’s American Hunter magazine later this year.)
The X5 scope is set up for quarter-MOA adjustments and the turrets are very well marked. All I had to do was look at how many MOA I needed to dial up on my FTW range card and then make that change on the scope. Each full revolution of the scope is 20 MOA and if you have made one or two full revolutions there is a clear 1 or 2 marker in the turret window. It’s all very intuitive and easy to use. There is a back to zero function so you can dial back to your base zero easily. There is even a 10 MOA sub-zero function. That is, if you have a very long range zero the function lets you go past the zero stop and dial down to the closer targets. Windage is also dialed in MOA.
The X5 3.5-18×50 is offered in three different reticles while the 5-25×56 is offered in four reticle options. All have the option of illuminated or not illuminated.
I used the 4WX reticle which has hash marks in MOA, so I could easily hold over if I ran out of dial up as I did at 1,400 yards. Or I can use the hold over for a fast shot while hunting. The hold over was also useful for playing the “running hare” game at FTW in which you have to shoot one target and then hit another at a much different distance within 10 seconds.
Windage is also in MOA and I found that dialing up for the distance and then using the hash marks on the horizontal line to hold windage was very precise.
This Swarovski X5 is without a doubt the best and easiest to learn long range scope I have used, both for targets and hunting.
There is a lot more on this new series of scopes to come. Look for more posts here as well as future articles in NRA’s Shooting Illustrated and American Hunter magazines.
On another note, I was able to shoot with a pre-production precision rifle from a big name rifle maker. While that information is embargoed right now, look for an introduction later this year. The rifle shot very well and is expected to be priced affordably. It may be a game changer in the precision rifle field.